EXEC SUMMARY: Hey there, this is Oliver Darcy... Scroll down for reactions to Mike Pompeo's contentious exchange with an NPR host, Pew's findings about Republicans and Fox, coronavirus conspiracy theories, Sean Hannity's Super Bowl chat with President Trump, WSJ's scoop on Jeff Bezos, weekend reads, and more. But first...
Storm warning: Disinfo is on its way
If you thought this past week featured large volumes of disinformation, you haven't seen anything yet. On Saturday, Trump's defense team will begin to make their case on the Senate floor. And if their arguments resemble what they've been saying on Fox, it's safe to say, America is about to be hit with a storm of disinformation.
As Andrew McCabe said on CNN this week, "The defense's job is to take that carefully constructed argument, make a mess of it, and turn to the jury and say, 'You can't possibly convict my client on the basis of this mess.'" Trump's defenders will likely do just that: Spinning webs of bad information to project everything Trump has been accused of onto Joe Biden and his family. Trump's lawyer Jay Sekulow told reporters Friday, “For the life of me, they’ve done it and why they opened up the door as wide as a double door on the Hunter Biden, Joe Biden, Burisma issue ... we will address it."
Sekulow said of Saturday's presentation: "I think you’ll see a, I guess I would call it trailer, coming attractions would be the best way to say it. We have three hours to put it out so we’ll take whatever time’s appropriate during that three hours, kind of lay out what the case will look like. Next week is when you’ll see the full presentation."
>> Big picture from John Avlon's Friday "Reality Check" segment: "This is a test of whether facts and evidence still matter to members of what was formerly known as the world's greatest deliberative body."
"It will flip like a switch"
Amanda Carpenter tweeted: "I really don't think people are prepared for how fast and how ugly this impeachment is going to turn. And it will happen the moment the Democrats wrap their arguments. It will flip like a switch."
Brian Stelter writes: The president and some of his closest allies have been on a three-year climb up disinformation mountain. And this trial feels like the peak. It was three years ago this week that Trump claimed that 3 million to 5 million people voted illegally in the 2016 election. The White House defended the indefensible by saying he really, truly did believe what he said. Flash forward to this week, and we've seen Trump's legal defense team make false claims during impeachment arguments. Trump has been "serially dishonest about impeachment and Ukraine," CNN's Daniel Dale wrote. So as I said on CNN TV this morning, let's hope news outlets have the backbone to stand up to the lies we're likely going to hear during the televised Trump defense...
Trump complains Saturday is "Death Valley" of TV ratings
One thing Trump is NOT happy about: The fact his defense team's first day to present is on Saturday. In a tweet Friday, Trump referred it to the "Death Valley" of TV ratings. CNN's Kaitlan Collins and Kevin Liptak noted in their story, "The complaint was a useful insight into Trump's view of his legal defense as a television event -- staffed partly by lawyers he identified from their cable appearances."
Expect Trump's legal team on Sunday shows
"Because the President's defense team will have made only a brief argument Saturday, at least one of his attorneys, Robert Ray, is expected to appear on the Sunday talk show circuit, given how closely Trump watches the coverage of the day's political shows," Collins and Liptak reported. Read their full story on Trump's defense team's strategy here...
Pompeo gets testy during NPR interview
Mike Pompeo sat down with NPR's Mary Louise Kelly for an interview on Friday. Kelly asked Pompeo, "Do you owe Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch an apology?" Pompeo declined to directly answer, saying, "You know, I agreed to come on your show today to talk about Iran. That's what I intend to do."
Kelly pushed back, telling him, "I confirmed with your staff [crosstalk] last night that I would talk about Iran and Ukraine." Pompeo responded saying that he didn't "have anything else to say about that." Kelly continued to press, saying she wanted to give him "another opportunity to answer" the question. Pompeo did not. You can read the full exchange here...
...lashes out at host in private profanity-laced tirade
At the conclusion of the interview, Kelly said she was asked to follow an aide who led her (without a recording device) to Pompeo's private living room. Kelly described what happened next: "He shouted at me for about same amount of time as the interview itself had lasted." Kelly said Pompeo, using profanity, asked her, "Do you think Americans care about Ukraine?"
According to Kelly, Pompeo then questioned whether she could find Ukraine on a map. Kelly said when she replied affirmatively, Pompeo "called out for aides to bring us a map of the world." Kelly explained, "I pointed to Ukraine. He put the map away." According to Kelly, Pompeo said before leaving the room, "People will hear about this." He was right about that...
"A national embarrassment"
Pompeo's behavior was roundly criticized on Friday. Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, tweeted, "I thought it was the responsibility of the Secretary of State to explain to Americans why they should care about Ukraine, not to berate a journalist asking legitimate questions about his lack of support for foreign service officers acting professionally."
MSNBC host Lawrence O'Donnell said that Pompeo "proves himself as crude & incompetent as Trump." Jake Tapper pointed out that Kelly's questions were "reasonable, relevant and appropriate and politely and professionally asked." Rep. David Cicilline called Pompeo a "national embarrassment" over the incident. And former Democratic presidential candidate Julián Castro lauded Kelly, saying she displayed "excellent journalism" and adding, "Other journalists should take note."
Pompeo's history of mistreating the press
This is certainly not the first time Pompeo has gone after a reporter. There are other incidents in which he has chided reporters. In November, he scolded reporters who asked him about Gordon Sondland's testimony. “I didn’t see a single thing today," Pompeo said at the time. "I was working. It sounds like you might not have been."
And he has gone after others too, including Judy Woodruff, who he accused of working for the Democratic Party. Garett Graff even noted this in his profile of Pompeo for WIRED magazine, "Pompeo seems to particularly bristle under tough questioning from female reporters."
Silence from State
I checked in a couple times Friday night to see if the State Department had any comment about Pompeo's behavior. Did he regret it? Did he apologize? I didn't receive a comment...
FOR THE RECORD, PART ONE
-- Saturday A1s: Both NYT and WaPo feature front page stories about the Wuhan Coronavirus...
-- ABC News posted the audio recording Friday night which appeared to capture Trump saying he wanted Marie Yovanovitch fired... (ABC News)
-- Laura Ingraham's comic side-kick Raymond Arroyo was given an interview by Trump. In the interview, which aired Friday night, Trump attacked Joe Biden and defended his Ukraine call... (Fox News)
-- Erik Wemple wrote about how Rudy Giuliani went "full conspiracy theory" in an "insane" segment on "Fox & Friends..." (WaPo)
-- Speaking of Giuliani, Playbook had quite the "SPOTTED" Friday: "Rudy Giuliani in the American Airlines lounge at JFK Airport this morning, complaining on speakerphone that no one can find his podcast." The pod is up and running now... (Politico)
Fox doesn't air Schiff's closing argument
It wasn't much of a surprise, but it was still notable: Fox News on Friday night did not air Adam Schiff's closing arguments in Trump's impeachment trial. Instead, the network chose to air Tucker Carlson's program as usual.
I asked spokespeople for Fox on Friday if they could explain why the network was feeding its audience pro-Trump opinion programming instead of airing the proceedings from Trump's trial. Didn't get an answer. Though, I suppose it's obvious, isn't it?
I'm old enough to remember when...
Back in December, some Fox News personalities were up in arms over the fact that CNN did not carry every minute of the Michael Horowitz hearing in the Senate. (The network carried parts of the hearing, just not the opening statements.) Speaking at the Newseum, Chris Wallace used it to accuse CNN of "bias." Fox's media critic Howard Kurtz called it a "major misstep by CNN" and said it "fuels the criticism they've taken sides."
Fox contributor Ari Fleischer tweeted, "CNN is not taking the Senate Horowitz hearing live. Unbelievable. A perfect example of how bias works. It's not just what they cover. It’s what they don't cover." And Fox's most loyal viewer, Trump, complained: "The News Media in our Country is FAKE and in many cases, totally CORRUPT!"
Fast forward to this week: Fox decided not to air Trump's impeachment trial in prime time. Instead, the network has fed its audience the usual diet of pro-Trump opinion programming. Notably, Adam Schiff's wrap-up speech was ignored by Tucker Carlson in favor of a rant about how boring the trial is. So how does the network -- and the personalties who were upset in December -- square their previous criticism with Fox's own actions this week? It's unclear. I asked spokespeople for Fox, but never heard back...
"One outlet towers above all others: Fox News"
"As the U.S. enters a heated 2020 presidential election year, a new Pew Research Center report finds that Republicans and Democrats place their trust in two nearly inverse news media environments." That is how the Pew bluntly put it in a Friday paper about media polarization using data collected late last year.
Pew noted that 65% of Republicans and those leaning toward the GOP trust Fox News. "In the more compact Republican media ecosystem, one outlet towers above all others: Fox News," the Pew researchers wrote. "It would be hard to overstate its connection as a trusted go-to source of political news for Republicans." Among Democrats and those who lean toward that party, 67% trust CNN, 61% trust NBC, and 60% trust ABC. The big difference, as the researchers note, is that "a number of sources other than CNN are also highly trusted and frequently used by Democrats."
>> Related from Chris Cillizza: "If you only trust one news outlet and that news outlet is telling a very different -- and factually challenged -- version of current events, a massive disconnect is created." Read Cillizza's piece here...
Coronavirus infects information wells
Outside impeachment, there is high interest in the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak. And naturally, where there is a high level of interest, there is misinformation. WSJ noted this week that bad information "has been rampant," pointing to posts circulating about how to treat and kill the virus.
A Friday NYT article observed, "One article claimed to cite a health expert as recommending that people counter the virus by rinsing their mouths with salt water, but the expert never said it and the tactic is ineffective. Another widely read but completely false post claimed that setting off fireworks would sterilize germs in the air."
And on social media, some posts been spreading dangerous conspiracy theories. "Numerous posts claim the virus has been patented — and some even suggest, incorrectly, that the virus was made in a lab and a vaccine already exists," FactCheck.Org explained. The website pointed out that the claims are false.
>> Helpful from Snopes: "Wuhan Coronavirus: Knowns and Unknowns..."
Sorry Bret! Hannity tapped for Super Bowl interview
Get ready to see another cozy chat between Sean Hannity and Trump -- this time, before the Super Bowl. On Friday, Fox announced that Hannity would be the one to conduct the pregame show Super Bowl interview with the President. The choice is, of course, notable.
Instead of one of Fox's journalists -- e.g. Bret Baier or Chris Wallace -- conducting the interview, Fox is turning it over to Trump's most loyal defender on cable news. It's not, however, surprising. Trump regularly turns to the opinion personalities on Fox when granting interviews, not the news division...
Though with questions like these...
That said, it's unclear to me how much Baier would actually press Trump. A good example from Friday night: Baier hosted on his show Peter Schweizer, the author who has pushed the discredited claims about Hillary Clinton/Uranium One and the idea Joe Biden abused his office.
Baier promoted Schweizer's book while tossing him questions like: "I notice you go down into the weeds, you get the actual documents, I mean it's not like made up stuff ... but some of your critics have said that your investigations are kind of opposition research. So how do you respond to that?" Not exactly hard-hitting stuff...
-- Trump's trial will resume at 10 a.m. ET Saturday...
-- The Des Moines Register editorial board will announce its caucus endorsement at 7pm ET Saturday...
-- With the ouster of recently-appointed Recording Academy chief Deborah Dugan all over the news, the 62nd annual Grammy Awards kicks off at 8pm ET on CBS...
This Sunday on "Reliable Sources"
Brian Stelter writes: On Sunday morning I'll be joined by Susan Glasser, who tweeted on Friday, "Witnesses who should be called if this was a real trial: Donald Trump, Mike Pence, Mick Mulvaney, Mike Pompeo, John Bolton, Mike Esper, Russell Vought, Rudy Giuliani, Lev Parnas, Igor Fruman, and a lot of other people. Just sayin'." Unfortunately none of those figures will be guests, but Glasser will be there along with Melanie Zanona, Glenn Greenwald, Salena Zito, Lyz Lenz, John Avlon, and today's newsletter author Oliver Darcy. Join us at 11am ET on CNN!
FOR THE RECORD, PART TWO
-- CNN will host eight Dem town halls in NH. The town halls will be split into two nights, airing February 5 and 6... (CNN)
-- Joe Rogan said he would "probably vote for" Bernie Sanders. The senator's embracement of the apparent endorsement has caused a backlash... (Daily Beast)
-- Maggie Haberman and Annie Karni report that Trump's campaign "is considering only participating in general election debates if an outside firm serves as the host, and his advisers recently sat down with the nonprofit Commission on Presidential Debates to complain about the debates it hosted in 2016..." (NYT)
WSJ: Prosecutors have evidence Bezos' girlfriend gave texts to brother
The WSJ dropped a big story Friday night: "Manhattan federal prosecutors have evidence indicating Jeff Bezos ’ girlfriend provided text messages to her brother that he then sold to the National Enquirer for its article about the Amazon.com Inc. founder’s affair," Joe Palazzolo and Corinne Ramey scooped. Palazzolo and Ramey reported that the text messages, which the two reporters said they reviewed, were turned over to federal prosecutors...
Meanwhile, Bezos hacking report leaves cyber experts with doubts
"The explosive forensic analysis that concluded Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos was hacked is coming under scrutiny from independent security experts, some of whom say the evidence isn't strong enough to reach a firm conclusion," CNN's Brian Fung reported Friday. "The criticism, including from several high-profile and respected researchers, highlights the limits of a report produced by FTI Consulting, the company Bezos hired to investigate the matter."
>> Important line from Fung's story: "Even as some analysts suggested FTI made the best of a difficult situation, critics of the FTI report said the paper revealed a lack of sophistication that could have been addressed by specialized mobile forensics experts, or law enforcement officials with access to premium tools."
Top Facebook exec struggles to distance Whatapp from Bezos alleged phone hack
Fung emails: Top Facebook executive Nick Clegg on Friday rejected the notion that its subsidiary WhatsApp could have been compromised as part of an alleged hack targeting Bezos — but struggled to explain why. Clegg said in an interview with BBC Radio 4 that he had "absolutely no idea what happened to Jeff Bezos's phone myself," but that "we're as sure as you can be that the technology of end-to-end encryption... cannot be hacked into.”
Encryption is the security technology that scrambles information exchanged between two or more individuals so that it cannot be deciphered by unauthorized outsiders. Clegg demonstrated a functional grasp of encryption during his BBC interview on Friday. But he struggled to justify how WhatsApp's encryption scheme alone could make him "very, very confident" that Bezos was not hacked via the app...
FOR THE RECORD, PART THREE
-- Jim Rutenberg did a Q&A about his time as NYT's media columnist: "I really thought I'd be writing about the death of news..." (Mediaite)
-- Lloyd Grove asks: "Why can't these ex-Fox News women get new TV jobs?" (Daily Beast)
-- ICYMI from Thursday: Reagan Arthur is the new publisher at Knopf, succeeding Sonny Mehta, who died in December... (NYT)
-- A climate activist from Uganda said she was heartbroken and cried after being cropped out of an AP photo of Greta Thunbeg at Davos. The AP said it harbored "no ill intent..." (BuzzFeed)
-- "Clayton Christensen, whose theory of disruptive innovation made him a key influence on Silicon Valley powerhouses like Netflix and Intel and twice earned him the title of the world’s most influential living management thinker, died Jan. 23 at age 67..." (Deseret News)
-- BBC Africa editor Fergal Keane is stepping down due to PTSD stemming from "several decades of work in conflict zones around the world..." (BBC)
-- Casey Newton reported that YouTube content moderators "are being ordered to sign a document acknowledging that performing the job can cause post-traumatic stress disorder..." (The Verge)
Trump campaign runs hundreds of misleading Facebook ads warning of Super Bowl censorship
"Trump's reelection campaign has run more than 200 misleading political advertisements on Facebook in the past day claiming the 'Fake News media' will attempt to block the campaign's upcoming Super Bowl ad — despite federal regulations that require the TV spot be aired," CNN's Brian Fung reported Friday. "The messages ... represent the latest example of the social media giant's willingness to let politicians misdirect users and could revive criticism that the company profits from misinformation."
Fung noted in his story that the ad was misleading in more than one way. "First, the Super Bowl, and by extension, the Trump campaign's Super Bowl ad, will be aired exclusively on Fox, whose chairman, Rupert Murdoch, shares close ties with Trump. Other media companies will have no role to play in determining whether Fox airs the campaign ad," Fung wrote.
Kerry Flynn emails: Google is backtracking on a design change that made ads look much more similar to organic results in search, CNBC reported. Media buyers told CNBC this redesign “obscures ads” and therefore helped increase ad click-through rates. Great for Google’s bottom-line and for brands willing to pay, but bad for consumers.
FOR THE RECORD, PART FOUR
By Kerry Flynn:
-- Meredith sold sports fandom site FanSided to Minute Media, which also recently acquired The Players’ Tribune... (Awful Announcing)
-- Sunday Times has appointed Emma Tucker, currently deputy editor, as its first female editor since 1901... (The Guardian)
-- At Sundance, Meg Whitman apologized for comparing journalists to sexual predators during a Quibi all-hands meeting... (Variety)
-- Speaking of Quibi: Chance the Rapper is hosting a reboot of Punk’D on the app... (Pitchfork)
Ken Doctor's 20 epiphanies for 2020
Kerry Flynn emails: Take some time this weekend to read Ken Doctor’s latest piece for Nieman Lab. Some highlights...
>> More consolidation in newspapers: “While financing remains tough to get, at any price, there remains an undeniable financial propulsion to bring many more titles under fewer operations.”
>> Direct relationships: Readers “value expertise and increasingly get to know these journalists individually, whether through podcasts or other digital extensions.”
>> Murdoch’s toxicity: “We haven’t yet come to grips with how his publications’ fact-slanting has literally changed the faces of free societies.”
>> Expertise rises: “Ruthless digital disruption — of both reading and advertising — means that inch-deep stories have less and less value.”
>> No ceiling to digital subscriptions: “Create a value proposition that works and consumers will pay. Obviously, national and global scale — what the Internet provides — are hugely helpful.”
Recommended reads for the weekend 👓
By Katie Pellico:
-- Tim Alberta kicks off his "passion project" for Politico Magazine, a series of "regular election-year dispatches" written "to Washington from the rest of America." He begins at the Mid-Michigan Gun & Knife Show... (Politico)
-- Sarah Ellison tracks how "Trumpworld has converted the nation's regional talk radio hosts into a loyal army..." (WaPo)
-- PBS reflects on the life and legacy of Jim Lehrer... (PBS)
-- Paul Farhi remembers Lehrer's parting promise on leaving PBS, that "NewsHour" was and would remain a "reserve of serious news..." (WaPo)
-- Max Read explains how "Peter Thiel’s Latest Venture Is the American Government..." (NY Mag)
-- Read the adapted speech Atlantic staff writer George Packer delivered on accepting The Hitchens Prize this week, headlined, "The Enemies of Writing..." (The Atlantic)
-- From Dublin-based writer Mark O'Connell: "Splendid isolation: how I stopped time by sitting in a forest for 24 hours..." (The Guardian)
-- Why "Netflix viewership stats just got more meaningless," from CNET's Joan Solsman... (CNET)
-- Sasha Weiss goes behind-the-scenes of Broadway's "West Side Story" production from director Ivo van Hove, and "the wildly ambitious effort to reimagine the classic musical for 2020..." (NYT)
-- Learn about the Film Forum series that's "Shining a Spotlight on Film's Overlooked Black Women..." (VF)
"The Gentlemen" stocks Guy Ritchie's latest crime comedy with plenty of stars
Brian Lowry emails: After directing studio movies like “Sherlock Holmes” and more recently “Aladdin,” director Guy Ritchie returns to his indie roots with “The Gentlemen.” It's a proudly coarse action-comedy with a star-studded cast -- which is more enjoyable if you savor the moments and don’t really fret about making sense of it. Read Lowry's full review here...
Get ready for another big awards weekend
Brian Lowry emails: It’s another big awards weekend, with the Directors Guild handing out its honors on Saturday night, potentially adding more shape to an Oscar race that continues to confound prognosticators; and the Grammy Awards, where the politics, in this case, will partially involve the management of the organization, and the public-relations mess surrounding the ouster of Recording Academy chief Deborah Dugan.
Thank you for reading! Email me feedback, or connect with me on Twitter. Try to enjoy the weekend. Stelter will be back on Sunday...